Out of office: Lego product, this TIer’s big idea could become

MarkIf his cubical at work and his play room at home are any indication, TI factory engineer Mark Smiley is still a kid at heart.

At 34, he still enjoys watching Star Wars movies and monkeying around with Legos. His desk at DMOS5 is adorned with spaceship replicas that he built from Legos, and one room at home is filled with toys – including thousands of Legos.

So it was natural for Mark to come up with an idea to use Lego parts to build a miniature BB-8 robot from the latest Star Wars movie. The replica – made entirely from Lego parts – rolls like a ball while its head stays balanced on top.

Click here to watch a YouTube video of the Lego BB-8 in action.

To an average kid, a rolling robot with a disconnected head may seem like magic. The key is built-in magnets that keep the head balanced.

“The whole concept was a ball with weight, leveraging magnets,” Mark said. “Building it with Lego parts made it challenging.”

And yes, even the magnets are from old Lego sets.

Popular rolling robot

Mark was inspired to build the BB-8 after eyeing a ball-shaped Lego part in his toy room at home.

“I just really wanted a little BB-8. I saw the ball in my room, and I thought that could be a starting point,” he said.

Mark pitched the idea to his friend, James, a graphic artist who painted the ball to look like BB-8.

“When I showed him my crude prototype, it won him over,” Mark said. “James proclaimed, ‘Well that’s a winner.’”

After buying some additional Lego parts and working on the project for a couple of months, Mark entered it into the Lego Ideas contest. Not only did 10,000 Lego enthusiasts vote for his project (in less than one month), but more than 114,000 people launched his YouTube video.

In February, Popular Science magazine picked up on the project and featured it in an article, “Behold, a BB-8 made of Legos.”

This month, Lego begins reviewing Mark’s BB-8 and other Lego fans’ project designs and is considering them for potential kits that consumers can buy. Lego will announce the winning designs later this year.

“If Lego likes the design, it could go from hobbyist creation to actual, purchasable kit. Not bad for a lost, little robot rolling around Jakku,” the article states.

“We were so excited when it appeared in Popular Science,” Mark added.

The project also has been featured in publications like Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo and Tech Crunch.

Mark’s colleague, Robert “Rob” Carreon, said he is fascinated by Mark’s creative ideas.

“He is the most creative cat I've worked with at DMOS5,” Rob said. “Being a jazz musician in fab engineering shoes, I respect and appreciate the importance of bouncing around off-the-cuff, adlib ideas – no matter how crazy they are – then circling back to say, ‘Hey! That was pretty awesome. Let's roll with it!’ That's how it feels to work with Mark. It feels like jazz.”

Master of lots

Mark isn’t concerned with whether he wins or loses the Lego Ideas contest. It’s all about having fun and enjoying the creative process.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Mark said of himself and his wife, Katrina. “We like to be goofy and have fun.”

They both enjoy traveling overseas and watching movies (they have seen the most recent Star Wars movie together three times). Now that they have a 1-year-old daughter, Effie, they are more focused on kid-friendly activities. For example, Mark and some other dads in his neighborhood built a miniature golf course for their kids that they set up in a nearby park.

You could say Mark is a jack of all trades. He has dabbled in woodworking with friends by building large trebuchets – catapults that can fling projectiles across a field. He also writes music, plays the guitar and sings in a rock band called “The Quattos” – named for a mutant character in a Total Recall movie. He also helps produce safety and other video productions for his wafer fab.

Despite his many interests, he plans to continue working with Legos in his spare time to see what else he can build.

“I enjoy it because there’s a puzzle factor to it,” he said. “Coming up with your own thing and making it work has an addictive quality to it.”